Mohammed Ben Sulayem pledged to remedy Formula 1’s problems after being elected FIA President but recognised he may also have to punish Lewis Hamilton for breaking the rules by not attending the sport’s gala awards.
Ben Sulayem told reporters he would devote all the time needed to Formula 1, whose season ended in uproar in Abu Dhabi last Sunday after a change to the safety car procedure led to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen taking the title on the last lap.
FIA race director Michael Masi has been at the centre of the controversy, with Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff saying the Australian had ‘robbed’ Hamilton of a record eighth championship.
The governing body has agreed to clarify rules and review the decision-making process.
Hamilton, the sport’s most successful driver of all time and badly affected by the outcome after leading until seven corners from the end, did not attend Thursday night’s gala awards ceremony– a requirement for the championship’s top three.
“If there is any breach, there is no forgiveness on this,” said Ben Sulayem, while also recognising that rules could always be improved and saying he wanted to make a fresh start.
“We have to improve in every aspect,” he said. “We will look into the rules and make sure that any situation like this that occurs in the future we will have an instant solution for it,” he added
Asked about the FIA’s confidence in Masi, he said he would “look into every single matter that can improve the FIA or there is an issue about it” but needed to fully inform himself first.
Ben Sulayem is the first non-European elected FIA president
In a significant break with the past, Ben Sulayem is the first non-European elected FIA president: “This is the centre of Europe but the FIA is for all members and a world organisation.”
“(Some people said) they will never accept anyone from outside Europe. I heard it and didn’t take it very seriously. I was not upset about it at all.
“Actually, the same people then called me and said ‘we don’t mind’. I remember one person said to me … ‘America had a Black president and the Vatican had a non-European Pope, we don’t mind someone from your part of the world with the name of Mohammed.”
Ben Sulayem said diversity and governance were high on his agenda, as well as increasing motorsport participation significantly in the developing world.
Brazilian Fabiana Ecclestone, the wife of former Formula 1 supremo Bernie, will be a vice-president for sport in South America.
“The choice was made on merit,” he said. “She had been involved in mobility in Brazil, in Formula 1, and she has been on two of the (FIA) commissions so her experience is there.”
Robert Reid, who was co-driver to Britain’s late world rally champion Richard Burns, will take the role of deputy president for sport. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)